Justin Vivian Bond: A “Cabaret Messiah”

When reached by phone on Friday, musician Justin Vivian Bond was in Provincetown, Massachusetts, getting ready to perform. “It’s Girl/Splash weekend in Provincetown,” Bond said, “Do you know what that is? Someone asked me, ‘Are you here for Girl/Splash weekend?’ That made me happy, though I don’t know what Girl/Splash weekend is. A lesbian wet t-shirt contest?”

Bond’s next tour stop will bring the Tony Award-nominated singer, songwriter and performance artist to Guild Hall in East Hampton on Saturday, July 30 at 8 p.m. And here’s why you should not hesitate to grab tickets while you can: The New Yorker has called Bond “the greatest cabaret artist of [this] generation” and in its five-star review, Time Out London (where Bond has an enormous following) said, “Justin Bond is a trans-Atlantic cabaret messiah!” Time Out New York recently named Bond one of the Top 40 New Yorkers.

As mind-bending as it sounds, Bond has been described as a mixture of Cher-meets-Andy Rooney-meets-Lily Tomlin. Though s/he does not identify as either male or female, this year Bond began taking female hormones. “I’m a transperson [transsexual], which some people confuse as a third gender, but it’s not, it’s all fluid, honey.” [expand]

For several years s/he was known for depicting Kiki DuRane, a bawdy, abrasive, wrinkled, alcoholic in her 70s who would say things “I wouldn’t dare say as myself,” Bond said. “Kiki was a mask I could hide behind, but she served me in several ways. It was during the AIDS crisis, I was young and very angry. Eventually, I realized she was almost a post-traumatic stress character.”

Bond’s new solo cabaret performance “wipes the stage with our illusions, challenging not only what is permissible to say onstage but how and why we say it,” Hilton Als of The New Yorker wrote, adding, “Bond’s message: we must celebrate diversity, or die.”

In Saturday’s show you’ll hear reinterpreted covers of several songs including “Superstar,” made famous by the Carpenters (“Don’t you remember you told me you love me baby”) and “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez, as well as songs a la Bond by Joni Mitchell, Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt and Patti Smith. “My music is kind of folk/pop/variety/cabaret. In between singing I spin yarns, tell anecdotes about what’s going on in the world. Like when I went down to the march on Stonewall for gay marriage, I was shocked. When did all these drag queens go to Abercrombie and Fitch?”

You’ll also hear songs from Bond’s latest CD Dendrophile that were written “at a radical fairy sanctuary in Tennessee.”

“Do you know what ‘dendrophile’ means? It’s a person who gets an erotic charge out of nature, a tree-hugger or tree-humper,” Bond answered, laughing.

And don’t be surprised if Bond invites a special guest on to the stage, perhaps a Wainwright, Rufus or Martha, or the Australian performer Meow Meow, or the singer Taylor Mac.

Bond is greatly influenced by early ‘70s folk-pop variety records by artists that defied genre and could easily go from protest songs to jazz standards, such as Marianne Faithfull, Judy Collins, Phoebe Snow, Melanie, Harry Nilsson, Sandy Denny, Linda Thompson, Baez, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and Odetta. Sex, gender and sexuality are foremost themes of the album—and important parts of Bond’s preoccupation with nature.

In “American Wedding,” Bond sets to music the poetry of the late queer writer-activist Essex Hemphill. “The Golden Age of Hustlers” was written by Bambi Lake, a transsexual woman, “Equipoise” is largely about coming of age as a transgendered person in a small town. “Salome,” from Bond’s recent performance piece, “Re:Galli Blonde”, is a celebration of what Bond calls “the sacred feminine.” And, topically, “The New Economy,” an unmistakably Bondesque commentary on the worldwide economic crisis.

In September, The Feminist Press will publish Bond’s novella-length memoir called “Tango: My Childhood Backwards and In Heels.”

Ticket prices range from $55 to $35, and can be had by calling 631-324-4050, online at guildhall.org or at the box office. [/expand]

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